This three-minute video describes how indoor air quality impacts your lungs, as well as providing practical tips for improving the indoor air quality in your home.

How IAQ Affects your Lungs

The air we breathe is filled with lots of things including gases and particles – Most are too small to see with the naked eye.

Everything we breathe affects our health in different ways.

Health effects from poor indoor air quality might include short-term symptoms like headaches, eye, nose, and throat inflammation, coughing and painful breathing, bronchitis, and skin irritation.

Extreme side effects can target the central nervous system, cause respiratory diseases like asthma, emphysema, and cause cancer and cardiovascular disease. Poor indoor air can also impact the blood, spleen, liver, and reproductive system.

Young children, older adults, and people with existing lung disease are most at risk of negative health effects from poor indoor air quality.

Before we can understand how indoor air quality impacts our lungs, we first need to understand how our lungs work.

When you breathe in through your nose or mouth, air travels down your airways, or trachea, dividing into your right or left lung via the bronchi.

The bronchi then separate into small tubes called bronchioles. Like tree branches, bronchioles divide into thousands of even smaller passages.

At the end of each bronchiole is a cluster of little air sacs called alveoli.

Alveoli are wrapped in tiny blood vessels called capillaries.

The air you breathe in fills these air sacs with oxygen-rich air. Here is where oxygen is transported throughout the body.

Not all the air you breathe is clean. Indoor air contaminants can include small particles that are suspended in the air.

When those particles from the air travel deep into your body, it can have a negative impact on your health.

These particles can include things like dust, tobacco smoke, diesel emissions, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and more.

Particulate matter – often written as PM - are so small they go into the lungs all the way to the alveoli. Once there, they can irritate and corrode the alveoli wall, damaging the lungs and causing lung disease.

These pollutants, at high levels, have also been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.

The good news is that we can improve our indoor air quality.

Simple things you can do to improve your indoor air quality include:

Reduce dust by vacuuming regularly and using a microfiber or damp cloth for dusting.

Reduce humidity to avoid mold and mildew buildup and change appliance filters regularly.

And make sure to test your home for dangerous gases like radon. Doing so can help keep the air in your home safe.

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Employees should be safe while on the job; that includes healthy air quality. Although laws and policies exist to protect workers, problems with air quality on the job are often overlooked. Breathing unhealthy air at work can be dangerous, but it's also preventable.

Do you have health symptoms such as headaches, sneezing or coughing that improve when you leave the building? Do they return when you come back into the building? If so, you may have an indoor air pollution problem and should explore the following potential sources.

  • Are there machines indoors that could be emitting odors, particles or chemicals, including copiers or printers?
  • Are there chemicals used in the work that emit odors, particles or gases? Are the emissions properly controlled and/or exhausted to the outside?
  • Have you recently remodeled or added new furniture, carpeting or painted?
  • Has anyone brought in materials or products that give off odors, gases or particles, such as sprays, perfumes or fragrances?
  • Has kitchen or food garbage been removed?
  • Are there outside sources of odors or chemicals coming indoors, such as vehicle exhaust, roofing materials or dust from construction?
  • Are heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems working properly and well-maintained? Are they sized properly for the space? Are vents or grilles blocked?
  • Is anyone smoking indoors? No one should smoke indoors.
  • Are there leaks or standing water anywhere?

The key to preventing problems in the indoor air at work are these steps. They take time to work through, but they are core to healthy indoor air.

1. Identify the source(s) of the problem.

Many sources of indoor air pollution can be removed or kept out of the workspace once identified. However, several sources may combine to become a more serious problem together than they are separately. Are some rooms worse than others or is the problem occur more frequently when some activity occurs?

2. Remove the source of the problem.

Depending on the source, this can be easy (for example, remove the garbage) or may take more work (for example, switch cleaning chemicals). Make sure the workplace is 100 percent tobacco-free. Clean damaged or dirty materials. Remove and replace any materials that have been moisture-damaged or that are too soiled to be adequately cleaned. 

3. Make sure the ventilation system is working correctly and that air flow is not blocked.

Inadequate ventilation is one of the most common causes of problems with indoor air in a workplace.

Whether you work in an office, a factory, a hospital or a small business you may be exposed to sources of indoor air pollution that are potentially hazardous to your health. Learn more about what you and your employer can do to protect yourself.

Corporate Wellness

Learn more about the steps to create a lung friendly workplace and get access to template policies and proven effective strategies on our Corporate Wellness page.
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Page last updated: June 23, 2023

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